How Long is Leash for Wilmer Flores?
Little things like fundamentals and defense are overlooked when a team is hitting and winning; those little things become glaring when the bats cool off and close games are lost.
For example, did anyone notice — or care — that Wilmer Flores was making more errors than the average shortstop in the month of April, while the Mets were on an 11-game winning streak? Not really … but people did notice that Ian Desmond was brandishing an iron glove while the Nationals struggled out of the gate.
Today, that 11-game winning streak seems like it happened years ago. Ian Desmond has switched to a different glove, and the Nationals are catching up to the now-fading Mets. What have you noticed about the Mets over the past two weeks? Lack of offense, for sure. Mediocre defense. Lacking in fundamentals. And you wouldn’t be alone — Terry Collins feels the same way. As does MetsToday reader and commenter “David.”
Over the winter, the Mets insisted they were comfortable with Wilmer Flores as their everyday shortstop. Never mind that he projected as a below-average MLB shortstop — he’d hit enough to make up for it, and besides, all the other shortstops available via trade and free agency weren’t THAT MUCH BETTER than how the Mets projected Flores.
I’m still trying to figure out how the Mets brain trust came up with that conclusion. After the pitcher and the catcher, the shortstop is the most important defensive player. It would be NICE to get above-average offensive production from the position, but defense is the priority. Did the Mets find advanced stats that downplay a shortstop’s defensive performance? Did they find a statistic suggesting that a minimum OPS would outweigh a minimum fielding rate (pick your poison — fielding percentage, UZR, rPM, DRS, RZR)? Did they think that Flores would suddenly blossom defensively, after being moved from the position as an 18-year-old and showing less-than-adequate skills at the two flanking, less-athletic positions of 3B and 2B?
Wilmer Flores is a nice kid. He’s a hard worker. He busts his butt, particularly in the field. He’s trying his absolute best. We know this because he regularly dives for balls and gets dirty. As a fan of baseball, I appreciate all of that. But it doesn’t make him a Major League shortstop, any more than that same hearty effort makes Daniel Murphy a Major League second baseman. Both players sometimes look good because they’re jumping and diving — at balls that an average defender handles without the acrobatics. It makes for good drama and web-gem highlights, but doesn’t help win ballgames.
The theory set forth by the Mets front office was that Flores would hit enough to make up for his defensive woes. In Thursday’s game in Chicago, that theory fell flat. Flores hit a solo homer to give the Mets a run, but his two miscues in the field in the fifth frame led to five Cubs runs. Yes, TWO miscues — though only one was counted as an “error” by the official scorer. The “infield single” by Jorge Soler leading off the inning was a gift — an average big-league shortstop makes that play.
Flores’ inadequacies didn’t begin in Wrigley Field, and they won’t end soon. Thursday afternoon was simply a glaring example of why a Major League team will have a hard time getting to the playoffs with substandard defense. And not to isolate Flores as the root of all the Mets’ defensive woes — Murphy, wherever he is placed, is a liability. The outfield corners are allowing hits and extra bases on a nightly basis. When Juan Lagares is not patrolling center, the inefficiency of the corners is exacerbated. And yes, even with superior defense, the Mets still need to score runs — but Flores isn’t adding enough on that front, either. Five home runs is a nice figure for a shortstop this early in the season, but a .238 AVG / .287 OBP / .713 OPS looks like the line of a “good field / no-hit” shorstop rather than an “offensive-minded” shortstop. How long can the Mets continue to get neither fielding nor hitting from Wilmer Flores?
Mets management continues to say that Flores is their shortstop — for now. My guess is Flores will need to get on a hot streak at the plate immediately to remain the everyday shortstop going forward. The first alternative is Ruben Tejada, who we know isn’t likely to offer much offensively, but who will be at least average defensively. Matt Reynolds has cooled off a bit after a hot start in Las Vegas, but he’s still a possibility. Many Mets fans have been clamoring for Reynolds, but I wonder if that’s because they know something as opposed to him being new and shiny; we won’t know for sure unless / until he’s given a chance in the bigs. And of course there is the pipe dream of Troy Tulowitzki, but I’m not seeing it happening in the next month, if at all. Another solution from outside the organization, perhaps, but before Reynolds gets an audition? I’m not sure.
What do you think? How long is the leash on Wilmer Flores? Does he have another week before the Mets explore other options? A month? Does he make it through this weekend? What does he need to do to stay? Do you envision Flores playing shortstop for the Mets in September? Post your thoughts in the comments.